The Best Art is in the Airport

Thursday, September 26, 2013

"I Was Dreaming of Spirit Animals," by Cappy Thompson. Vitreous enamels, stained glass. Seattle-Tacoma International Airport (Sea-Tac Airport)

The airport used to be a place that evoked glamour. Men and women wore their finest clothes, and flight attendants and captains reminded us of movie stars. Frank Sinatra asked us to fly with him, and the world used terms like “jet-setting.”

Now, the airport is less about magic and more about lines—lines for the ticketing desk, lines to get patted down at security, and lines to get into other lines.

But it’s not all bad. If you stop and take a look around, you might see something truly spectacular at the airport.

In the Seattle-Tacoma airport, for example, you’ll find works by Frank Stella, Robert Maki and Robert Rauschenberg. In San Jose’s airport, you can walk beneath a cloud made up of hundreds of panels. Look closely and you'll see each panel depicts the changes in weather in all the cities you can fly to from San Jose. Dan Goods, Nik Hafermaas, and Aaaron Koblin are the artists behind the eCLOUD.

Some airports have even opened museums and curate roving exhibits. Others display their art more subtly, incorporating it into the architecture, the floors, even the monorails that take you from terminal to terminal.

And spending has grown for airport art over the past decade as more and more cities are requiring that public building projects allocate 1 percent to 2 percent of their budgets on art.

Sharing their insights on airport art are two airport art curators.

Rebecca Blume Rothman is the Public Art Project Manager with the Phoenix Office of Arts and Culture, which is in the midst of a multi-million dollar public arts project in the Phoenix Sky Harbor Airport.

Colleen McPoland is the manager of the Aviation Art Program at the Seattle-Tacoma International Airport.

Seattle-Tacoma Airport
"The Landing" by Ralph Helick & Stuart Schechter. Suspended mixed-media
Seattle-Tacoma Airport
"Traveling Light" by Linda Beaumont. Vitreous enamels, silvestairn, etching on laminated glass
Seattle-Tacoma Airport
"York Factory A" by Frank Stella. Oil Painting on Canvas.
Seattle-Tacoma Airport
"cloudsandclunkers" by Peter Shelton. Cast iron, polymers, stainless steel.
Chicago O'Hare International Airport
Sculpture at Chicago O'Hare International Airport
Chicago O'Hare International Airport
Jet Trails (O’Hare Terminal 1)


Colleen McPoland and Rebecca Blume Rothman

Produced by:

Kristen Meinzer


T.J. Raphael

Comments [11]

Ned from New York City

Its telling that the first person to answer you starts with, "Wow, that's a great question!" which usually means, "... the speaker has absolutely no idea how to answer said question. Often used to stall for time."

Sep. 26 2013 03:31 PM
Steve MacIntyre from Arizona

You tells us that the real-time feedback you're receiving identifies Austin and Portland as two of the best airport art venues in the US, but you don't say which Portland. Porrtland, Maine or Portland, Oregon?

Sep. 26 2013 02:58 PM
Lindsay from Hopkins, MN

My favorite is in the Cincinnati/Northern KY airport. Murals originally in Union Terminal, once the active and busy train station, have been moved to the airport to preserve them. Each mural depicts a scene from the frontier days when steamboats were the common mode of transportation. On top of it all the murals are amazingly beautiful. I'm originally from Cincinnati, so perhaps I'm bias, but those murals were one o my favorite parts of traveling as a child that has continued today.

Sep. 26 2013 02:27 PM
NC from NYC

Like Tom, this is also not art, but the Milan airport has really nice leather couches!

Sep. 26 2013 01:43 PM


Sep. 26 2013 01:06 PM
Jodi from New Jersey

Toronto has terrific sculptures which can occupy kids for a long while - they permit and promote climbing on animal sculptures and an echo sculpture. We were stuck there for many hours several years ago and the art really helped keep up our spirits!!

Sep. 26 2013 12:37 PM
tom from chester county pa

Harissburg, PA Airport has white, vintage-look rocking chairs all throughout the terminal/concourses ..not art per se, but very relaxing to see, let alone use, esp for kids :-)

Sep. 26 2013 12:37 PM
Jerrold Richards from Lyle, Washington

Hmmm ... how do I edit this ... phrase below should read, "However, if the original intent was and continues to be hazing ... "

Sep. 26 2013 12:36 PM
Jerrold Richards from Lyle, Washington

"The hazing of humanity." Great phrase! Just exactly right.

The question, I believe, concerns intentionality. If this hazing is more or less the result of kneejerk reactions, of incompetent bumbling and so forth, fine, we can improve that over time.

However, if the original was and continues to be hazing, then I think we may need to shut down the Corporate Intelligence State entirely. Fire everyone in the NSA, CIA, on and on, send in the Marines or whomever, occupy all premises, destroy all the data, trash all the computers, and start all over again.

Sep. 26 2013 12:33 PM
trish from ohio

Bangkok has an amazing sculpture of traditional folklore, is about 40 ft. long.

Sep. 26 2013 12:28 PM
Brad from NY

San Francisco has Airport's Terminal 3 has a great installation of "recycled art" made from items that were thrown away. My favorite was the full sized military Hummer made of polystyrene.

Sep. 26 2013 09:39 AM

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